'Ambitious Girl' Reminds Kids: Your Dreams Are Not A Drawback

Becoming a kids’ book author is never what I imagined. It was never on my my bucket list. I’m sort of an accidental author. … [I remember] reading the classics to my older daughter and wondering, you know, where the black children were. They were not represented on the pages of books. We would color the skin color in with a brown marker; often we would change pronouns from he, to she, to they.

And I saw, you know, firsthand … this idea that you can’t be what you can’t see. … Now [my daughter] says she wants to be a president and an astronaut when she grows up — and that is because she saw a family member running for president. It’s because she read a book about [astronaut] Mae Jemison.

Meena Harris and Marissa Valdez/Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers

On the idea that you should not let anyone else define you

“Don’t let anyone tell you who you are. You tell them who you are.” … That is actually something my grandmother used to say often to my aunt, my mom and to me. … You are the only person who has power to define who you are — what your ambitions are and what your impact on the world will be. No one else should have the power to do that. And I think inherent in that is, again, claiming your ambition.

Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers

On daring to be the first

We need to continue to elect women leaders and to appoint women to positions of leadership … My grandmother had another saying, which was: “You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you’re not the last.” … Daring to be the first woman elected to do something, or the first black woman to be elected is, by definition, ambitious. And it’s also not only … achieving representation, but in doing so, you know, people are not able to tell us: “Oh, it can’t be done — it’s never been done, so it can’t be done.” It’s about challenging the status quo.

On where she gets her creative spark

My grandmother was such an influential figure in my life. And when you say that “spark,” I mean, I immediately think of her. That’s the life that she lived — just unapologetically her — and encouraged all of us to pursue our dreams in the same way.

I come from this family of social justice lawyers and I had these incredible role models. Right? But I was always encouraged to pursue my dreams — not to be corny — but that’s how I was raised … and I’m super thankful for that.

Meena Harris and Marissa Valdez/Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers

Kalyani Saxena and William Troop produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

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